Polish government backs out of the Holocaust Bill

Following an international scandal and a meltdown in diplomatic relations with Israel and the US, the Polish government partially retreats from its controversial law. Sadly, this comes at the expense of women’s rights.

Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko NewsMavens, Poland
Polish government backs out of the Holocaust Bill - NewsMavens
Auschwitz. Pixabay

Why this story matters:

In February, the Polish right-wing government baffled the world by passing a law that criminalized speaking out against the state, thus placing itself in the company of democracy champions such as Russia and Turkey.  

The ruling party’s aim was to fight against the popular misconception that the death camps built in Poland during the WWII by the Nazis were Polish. They achieved exactly the opposite.

Many people worldwide heard the phrase “Polish death camps” for the first time. According to Google Trends, on January 27 alone the search phrase was used by 23 to 28 million web users. Meanwhile, the phrase “German death camps,” was entered a million times.

There was no need for Russian fake news -- Poland devised its own media massacre.

It took months and -- allegedly -- solid pressure from the US for the ruling party to take a step back. But when they finally did, it was at record speed. Last Wednesday, the legislative procedure that usually takes the Parliament weeks or months was completed in eight hours. As quickly and quietly as possible, as if nothing ever happened.

But months of disgrace cannot be undone in eight hours. So to cover up this diplomatic debacle the government took the old monster out of the closet: the abortion bill.

On Monday, the MPs were yet again discussing the civil project “Stop Abortion” and people took to the streets in protest.

It is becoming more and more obvious that the government will not curb the abortion law as it would be a political suicide. The majority of Poles want the law to remain intact, while five times more support liberalization than tightening.

So each time the government considers curbing the law, there is an underlying motive -- either they are making up to the Church, or the alt-right, or big money is involved.

This was also true in the case of the Holocaust Bill, which was originally meant to be a little treat for the far-right, not a diplomatic suicide.

This is why more than fear, I now feel anger. The cynical way in which the government uses women’s rights as a smoke screen shows just how much they disrespect us. It won’t get them far, though. The force of the pro-choice Black Protests made it clear that they are playing a risky game.

Details from the story:

  • In February 2018, the bill from the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) was passed. It stated that: “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich [...] shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.”
  • It was widely perceived as a breach of freedom of speech as well as a serious obstacle for academics, artists, journalists and Holocaust survivors who speak publicly about Shoah.
  • There have been reports that the US officials warned the Polish government that their relations would be affected until the issue was resolved.
  • On June 27, in an emergency session, Poland's Parliament voted in favor of amending the bill. Anyone who implies that Poles were complicit in the Nazi death machine will no longer face criminal charges, only a fine.
  • The amendment was passed in eight hours -- just in time for the afternoon press conference of Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu. In a joint statement, they said: “We believe that there is a common responsibility to conduct free research, to promote understanding and to preserve the memory of the history of the Holocaust. We have always agreed that the term ‘Polish concentration/death camps’ is blatantly erroneous and diminishes the responsibility of Germans for establishing those camps.”
  • On the same day, the ruling party announced that they would get back to work on the pro-life civil project “Stop Abortion”, which proposes delegalizing abortion in the case of congenital diseases of the fetus.
  • In March, 55,000 people in Warsaw alone demonstrated against this project, in the second “Black Protest” to date. Tens of thousands more joined across Poland.
  • According to unofficial information of “Gazeta Wyborcza”, PiS intends to delay the work on the “Stop Abortion” project until the next election in 2019.
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